‘Close call’ in shelling near nuclear reactor on Ukraine’s frontline

  • IAEA chief warns of high risk of fighting at plant
  • Russia, Ukraine accused of trafficking in explosives
  • President Zelenskiy says the eastern region has been hit by heavy airstrikes
  • ‘Fierce fighting’ in Donetsk region, Zelenskiy says

KYIV, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Ukraine narrowly escaped disaster during weekend clashes that rocked Europe’s largest nuclear power plant with a series of shells, some landing near reactors and damaging a radioactive waste storage facility, the country’s nuclear watchdog said. UN.

Russia and Ukraine on Monday shared the blame for the twelfth explosion at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian control since immediately after it attacked the country on February 24 but across the Dnipro river from areas controlled by Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged NATO members to ensure protection from “Russian sabotage” of nuclear weapons. The head of Russia’s nuclear power agency, Rosatom, said it had discussed Sunday’s explosion with the IAEA, and said there was a risk of a nuclear accident.

The attack came as fighting continued in the east following the movement of Russian troops into the industrial Donbas region from near Ukraine’s recently recaptured Kherson in the south.

Whoever fired at the plant was taking “great risks and gambling with the lives of many people”, said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA experts toured the site on Monday, and the agency said it found widespread damage but nothing that would jeopardize the plant’s critical systems.

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“They were able to confirm that – despite the difficulty of the bombing – the main equipment is intact and there are no nuclear safety problems or safety concerns,” it said in a statement released on Monday evening.

Reuters could not immediately confirm which party was responsible. The attack also hit a cooling pool, a cable to one reactor and a bridge to another, according to the IAEA team on the ground citing information provided by the plant’s management.

“We were lucky that a serious nuclear incident did not happen. Next time, we will not be so lucky,” Grossi said in a statement at the end of Sunday, describing the situation as a “close call”.

“We’re talking about meters, not kilometers,” he said.

The repeated explosions of this weapon during the war raised concerns about a major disaster in the country that suffered the worst nuclear accident in the world, the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

Radiation levels remained normal and there were no reports of injuries, the IAEA said. While there was no direct impact on nuclear safety and security systems, “shelling is dangerously close”, Grossi said.

MISSILE STRIKE

Russia’s response to the military offensive in recent weeks has included missile attacks, many on power plants that have left much of the country without power as winter sets in and temperatures drop below freezing.

A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from the town of Nikopol, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine on November 7, 2022. Photo taken through glass. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

Zelenskiy said half of the country’s forces had been taken out by Russian rockets.

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Grossi spoke to world leaders and reiterated the need for nuclear safety and security in the area around Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA said.

CEO Alexei Likhachev said Rosatom was negotiating with the IAEA “throughout the night”, Interfax reported.

Rosatom has managed the facility through a subsidiary since President Vladimir Putin in October ordered Russia to take over the plant and transfer Ukrainian workers to the Russian facility. Kyiv says the smuggling of goods is akin to theft.

Kyiv controls the region across the river from the power station, including the regional capital. The Zaporizhzhia plant itself and the area below it fell to Russia in March.

The Zaporizhzhia plant supplied about one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before Russia invaded, and generators have been forced to operate for backup several times. It has six Soviet-made VVER-1000 V-320 cooling and water moderators containing Uranium 235.

The reactors are shut down but there is a risk that the nuclear fuel could overheat if the power to the cooling systems is cut. Shelling cut power lines repeatedly.

Russia’s defense minister said Ukraine fired on power lines supplying the plant. Ukraine’s nuclear power company Energoatom said the Russian military had destroyed the site, accusing it of nuclear mischief and actions that put the world at risk.

‘A FEW NOTES’

Russian troops pulled out of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson ten days ago in one of the biggest withdrawals of the war, after being pushed out of the northeastern province of Kharkiv in September and away from the capital Kyiv in April.

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Moscow has been consolidating its hold, and pressing its offensive along the road west of the city of Donetsk held by its proxies since 2014.

The Ukrainian military said late Monday that Russian forces had tried to advance on Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk, and shelled nearby towns.

Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that Russia was shelling Kherson across the Dnipro river, and now its soldiers have fled.

“There is no sense of war: they just want to take revenge on the local people. This is a big criminal war always,” he tweeted. Moscow denies deliberately targeting people in what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine.

Ukrainian police and prosecutors have identified four locations in Kherson where they suspect Russian forces tortured people before leaving the city, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said Monday. Moscow denies that its forces committed atrocities in its territories.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Maria Starkova in Lviv, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Caleb Davis in Gdansk, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Written by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Graff; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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